Last night I watched a BBC version of 4:50 from Paddington—one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories. One of the key elements prodding the murderer to his heinous acts was the desire to marry another woman and the fact that his first wife (“being a very good Catholic”) would not accept divorce, despite a long-term separation. Being quite familiar with Agatha Christie’s work—since I read FAR too many of them in my youth and became convinced (well, sort of) that my mother was trying to kill me-- I am always interested in the different spins that different directors give. In the original story, Miss Marple had been quite harsh on the murderer (suggesting she was sorry that the death penalty had been abolished since he deserved to hang). But in this version, Miss Marple expresses her condolences to the intended second-wife, telling her that his crime was one motivated by love. A curious and significant difference.
I couldn’t help but think, though, about our understanding of love and divorce—particularly as it affects the children of a marriage (which were not a factor in this case). Recently, a friend remarked that in our national discussion regarding new approaches to parenting, we had not really taken stock of the effects of divorce on children. There was a lot of talk, 50 years ago, about how what was best for adults was also best for kids. But that same consensus no longer holds. These days, there’s general confusion on what’s best. It seems impossible to deny that divorce is really hard on kids. At the same time, we don’t want to ostracize or condemn divorcés, especially those who may be experiencing very difficult and challenging circumstances and struggling through them.
Nevertheless, I think we do a disservice to everyone when we sugar-coat things or try to pretend that they will be good because we want them to be. On this note, one of the most fascinating, heart-wrenching, honest, poignant, painful memoirs I’ve ever read is Susan Gregory Thomas’ In Spite of Everything. I think she overstates some of her points, but, overall, it’s a beautiful and amazing account of the hazards of divorce, told from an intelligent, sensitive, and open point of view. Coincidentally, a review of the literature on divorce I stumbled on about a year ago begins with a review of this book: http://www.humanumreview.com/articles/view/children-of-divorce-an-overview-of-the-recent-literature
Wherever we go from here—and however we get there, I think we need to take stock of where we’ve been, and where we are. We owe it to ourselves and to our kids. We need to take some good, long, hard looks at our divorce culture. And if we don’t all agree on what we see, at least we can begin by talking about something real.